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    Patrol Vehicles and Carbon Monoxide Awareness

    Carbon monoxide (CO) is a highly toxic, colorless, and odorless gas that is produced through the incomplete burning of fuels such as gasoline. In fact, one of the most common sources of CO exposure is the internal combustion engine — a primary component of gasoline-fueled automobiles. Because of their reliance on internal combustion engines, cars have the capacity to produce high concentrations of CO, with sometimes lethal consequences. Hundreds die each year from CO poisoning caused by a running vehicle inside a closed garage, become ill while stranded in their car, or while driving or riding in a vehicle with a defective exhaust system.


    Law enforcement officers spend much of their time inside their patrol vehicles. If there are cracks in the exhaust manifold of this vehicle, an officer could be exposed to high levels of CO.

    Many police departments outsource vehicle upfitting to a third party. If new holes created through the firewall to run wires for lights are not sealed properly, carbon monoxide can leak into the cab, putting officers at risk for CO exposure.

    Recently, a police department in Texas pulled nearly 400 vehicles from its fleet after 20 officers tested positive for elevated levels of CO.

    In a related incident in Massachusetts, ten out of 28 cars were removed from police department service after three officers were hospitalized for high CO levels and one officer sustained a crash as a result of CO poisoning

    Patrol Vehicles and Carbon Monoxide Awareness — The Basics

    Gas-powered automobile engines can produce high concentration of carbon monoxide (CO) quickly, overcoming exposed individuals before they realize they are at risk.

    Police car and Sensorcon Inspector Industrial Pro

    To put this in perspective, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes that CO concentrations reach the Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH) concentration of 1,200 parts per million (ppm) in only 7 minutes when a small 5 horsepower gasoline engine is run in a 10,000 cubic foot room.

    Persons affected by CO display a lack of reasoning caused by reduced oxygen to the brain that can impair function and make them less likely to discern the danger in the environment.

    Limiting Carbon Monoxide Exposure from Patrol Vehicles

    While many risks of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure stem from mechanical issues, there are a series of best practices regarding limiting CO exposure that should be considered when operating a motor vehicle.

    In general, police officers should avoid:

    • Operating a vehicle with a defective exhaust system.
    • Operating a vehicle with a defective emission system or poorly tuned engine.
    • Driving a vehicle with the trunk lid or rear tailgate open.
    • Driving a vehicle with holes in the car body.
    • Warming up a vehicle in a garage, even with the outside garage door open.
    • Operating vehicles in a garage, carwash, or any enclosed building.

    Additionally, an exhaust hood must be sealed tightly and vented to outside, as well as being of sufficient capacity to remove all fumes.

    Risks Specific to Defective Exhaust Systems and Vehicle Upfitting

    Even a properly tuned gasoline engine will produce more than 30,000 parts per million (ppm) of carbon monoxide in the exhaust stream before the catalytic converter. Engines that are poorly maintained, have a poor design, or are defective can result in exhaust leaks.

    • An exhaust leak can allow escape of carbon monoxide before it is converted to non-toxic CO2 in the catalytic converter.
    • The carbon monoxide leaking from the exhaust system can enter the vehicle through holes in the body or open windows or doors.

    NOTE: Many police departments outsource vehicle upfitting to a third party. If new holes created through the firewall to run wires for lights are not sealed properly, carbon monoxide can leak into the cab, putting officers at risk for CO exposure.

    If you are experiencing issues with carbon monoxide stemming from your patrol vehicle, you should immediately contact your supervisor so the vehicle can be inspected, and if needed, repaired..

    A service technician can inspect your vehicle to diagnose and correct any problems due to faulty parts, improper maintenance, or other issues.

    To learn more about the effects of CO poisoning, please review Understanding the Effects of Carbon Monoxide.

    Using Carbon Monoxide Meters to Detect and Monitor Carbon Monoxide Levels

    The Sensorcon Inspector is a trusted tool used by police officers, service technicians, and motor vehicle operators for detecting and identifying the source of carbon monoxide leaks.

    The Sensorcon CO Inspector is a portable and reliable carbon monoxide meter (CO meter) that was designed in the USA and assembled in our manufacturing facility located in Buffalo, NY.

    The CO meter provides you with real-time readings all the way from 0 to 2000 PPM and is used by professionals to monitor or inspect for carbon monoxide.

    Trusted by police departments, automotive service technicians, fire fighters, emergency medical services (EMS), home inspectors, plumbers, and HVAC technicians, the Sensorcon CO Inspector is a great tool for monitoring for and diagnosing CO leaks in the home, workplace, vehicles, or environment.

    Please visit our product pages to learn more about our various product offerings.